The 2003 NHL entry draft is considered one of the best draft classes in NHL history producing Ryan Getzlaf, Shea Weber, Corey Perry, Eric Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Pavelski, Jeff Carter, Brent Burns, Ryan Kesler, Tomas Vanek, Milan Michalek, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Dion Phaneuf, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Seabrook, Zack Parise, Ryan Suter and many other solid players.
Despite all the big names, Kyle Brodziak has emerged as an excellent 7th round draft pick. The Oilers selected him 214th overall in 2003, but 15 years later he has played the 19th most games and produced the 26th most points out a very deep draft class.
Those are very impressive numbers for a small-town Alberta boy. Brodziak began his pro career in Edmonton, with the AHL Roadrunners in 2004/2005. He played another two years in the AHL before becoming a regular NHLer in 2007/2008. After two seasons with the Oilers he was traded to Minnesota for two draft picks at the 2009 NHL entry draft. He played six seasons in Minnesota, scoring a career-high 22 goals and 44 points in 2012, before signing as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues in 2015.
Last week he returned to the Oilers organization signing a two-year deal and I caught up with Brodziak earlier this week to talk about his career coming full circle.
Jason Gregor: How much better prepared are you now as husband and a father of three young boys to handle the pressures or the distractions of playing in your hometown than you were as a young rookie breaking in?
Kyle Brodziak: Ah, actually that’s a good question. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of years thinking about that. When I was younger coming into the league it was a bit of a different time for myself. I didn’t have a family, you’re younger and I guess I was just enjoying the ride a little bit more (laughs). Now we’re settling into family life. We kind of prefer a little bit of a slower paced life. I’d hoped to come back and play at home at some point. I’d got myself wondering if I’d be ready for it (playing at home) and I made the decision throughout the last year or two that I definitely would be ready for it if the opportunity did come up. Right now, I’m just really excited that it happened.
Gregor: Last year you had your best offensive season since 2012. You had ten goals and 33 points with the majority of them coming at even strength. What clicked offensively more for you last year than you had in the previous four seasons?
Brodziak: I think there were two factors. Physically going into the season last year was probably the best I’ve felt in a while. I had a really good summer of training and I just felt really good. I knew to be able to open up some opportunities I had to have a really good year last year. I think going into the year feeling good kind of a built up parts of my game. As the season went along, early on I felt like I was playing well but, you know, it was the same role, I was on the fourth line but I felt like I was playing really well. As the season progressed, different opportunities opened up because I was playing well and the confidence grew. Towards the end of the year, I felt as confident as I have been playing the game in a long time. It’s something that I hope to continue to build on.
Gregor: It seems clear what your role will be here; a fourth line centre who can produce at even strength. Your other focus will be faceoffs and on the penalty kill. This is a role you’re comfortable with?
Brodziak: Yup, for sure. It’s a role I’ve had for quite a while. I’m happy to do the role, it’s something that I take pride in for sure. A lot of faceoffs starts in the defensive end, depending on the team and the night, it could be some matchups between some more difficult lines. Penalty kill has been a mainstay of my career. And then you never know, with injuries and what not you always have to be prepared if something happens and you’re asked to do a little bit more. That’s something that I’ll make sure that I will prepare for if that is the case.
Gregor: How much was the Connor McDavid factor a part of why you wanted to come back to Edmonton?
Brodziak: Oh it’s definitely a factor. Every time when we were playing against the Oilers, every time he’s on the ice I think everybody was very aware of it and just the explosiveness of his game. You’re really on guard when he’s on the ice. The thought of being able to play with him every day and seeing him in practice and watching him play every day is something that is pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to being able to do that.
Gregor: Can you help a young guy on faceoffs?
Brodziak: Oh yeah, I think faceoffs are something that pretty much every team I have ever been on, it’s something that you work on with the other centremen, probably not every day but the last few years have kind of been a game day routine for the centremen that I’ve played with when the pre-game skate is over all of the centremen go and line up and talk about who you are playing against that night, what their tendencies are. I’ve been fortunate in the last couple of years to play with a guy like Paul Stastny who is every year one of the better faceoff men in the league. I’ve played with guys like [Mikko] Koivu, a lot of guys who are considered premier faceoff men in the league. I like to take a little bit of information from everyone and hopefully when we get rolling if the young guys have a question, or if any of the other centremen have a question I’ll be happy to help out.
Gregor: With the rule changes to faceoffs, how did you have to change your approach? You can’t use your feet anymore, and different body angles. How much of a challenge was that for you?
Brodziak: You know what, I kind of feel like it benefitted me a little more. There are a lot of guys around the league who used to have, a little, I guess tricks to cheat a bit, use the timing a little more, and now it’s more of a straight up even faceoff. The linesman did a good job, especially early on in the year, of establishing and holding that pattern through the year. I think that kind of helped me out. I’ve never been one to really use a whole lot of tricks to win a faceoff, I just try to get my timing right and be strong on my stick. I think the rule change probably benefitted me a little bit.
Gregor: You’re a father of three boys now; seven, three and two. A little bit of a mad house in a fun way for you and your wife Nicole. Has fatherhood changed your perspective or made it easier to be an NHL player? Do you not get as stressed out because when you come home your kids don’t care if you win or lose?
Brodziak: I think it definitely puts a little different perspective into it. Like I said, when I was younger, playing in the NHL is everything in your life. So you kind of have a different perspective, but now when you get older you kind of realize that the kids are everything in your life, and hockey is still a big part, but it’s just a part of it right now. Maybe it takes the pressure off of the game a little more when you come home. You wake up in the morning and the kids are there and it’s kind of easier to let go if something didn’t go well the night before, or if you had a bad game, It is easier to let it go instead of sitting there and dwelling on it when the boys are racing around and asking you to play trucks or other things.
Gregor: Your oldest one now is seven so he’s old enough to know what’s going on. Does he like to watch highlights with dad?
Brodziak: Yup, every now and then will like to sit and watch some of the old goals I scored on YouTube, or things like that. He’s kind of just into that age now where he’s understanding moving away or staying home and what that’s going to mean. He’s definitely excited to be able to stick around home and spend some more time with family, their grandparents are close, a couple of cousins around, he’s pretty excited about it.
Gregor: Was Dad his favourite player in St. Louis?
Brodziak: Yep, it was dad. He still thinks that I’m the best player in the NHL (laughs).
Gregor: Well that’s good! Mark Letestu told me his son said, ‘sorry dad, Connor McDavid is now my favourite player.’ You might have some competition.
Brodziak: Oh I bet you 97 will change that. My oldest watches hockey a little bit but I wouldn’t say it’s his passion right now. Yesterday was his first day in a while, we got home and he was excited to get the hockey nets out and start shooting the puck around. But so far to this point, he hasn’t been a real hockey fanatic but who knows? Maybe that will change in the next little while.
Gregor: Do you still golf a lot?
Brodziak: Yeah, as much as I can; I hopefully get out one or two times a week.
Gregor: And you’re still bombing it, like 310 or 320 off the tee?
Brodziak: I think I’ve made it far, but the same as always (laughs).
Gregor: So it’s far into the bush is what you’re saying?
Brodziak: Yup, exactly. That’s kind of been the problem for my whole life I guess golfing. Yeah, it’s left or right, I don’t know exactly how to control that. If I’m playing my own ball I definitely most times just hit an iron off of the tee. That’s kind of helps out the score a little bit.
Gregor: So you’ve matured a little now in your golf game as well as your off ice in hockey?
Brodziak: (Laughs) Well, my score doesn’t always indicate that I’ve matured and gotten smarter. But it’s still a struggle, it’s pretty inconsistent.
Gregor: You’re 34 years of age, you’re entering your 12th NHL season, and you’re going to play over 900 games by the time this season is over. You’re better suited to handle the highs and lows of the NHL and you’re entering a team with a lot of young players. Are you a vocal guy in the room, are you going to have to take on maybe more of a leadership role, or more of a mentor role with this young team?
Brodziak: I’m not sure. I definitely am vocal when it’s needed to be done. I don’t want to go out of my way too much and force that issue. I think for myself it comes better naturally if I take that approach. If you see something that’s an issue or someone is noticeably struggling with something then maybe you can go and help him out a little bit. I try to do it more naturally, try to be myself as much as I can.
I definitely think I can be that calming influence as well. I like to approach it where I go to the rink. I put in the time, I put in the work, and hopefully, others can see and maybe will follow. That’s kind of the mindset I’ve had over the last couple of years where I’m coming to do my job. I want to do my job well and I’m going to take care of all of the little things that I need to do so that I’m capable of doing my job well. That’s the focus I’m going to have and if it rubs off on players great, and if not, everybody at this stage of the game kind of has their own thing and their own routine. Whatever works best for every individual is all you can ask right now.
Gregor: I know for all of your friends in Vegreville and the surrounding area will be flocking to buy Brodziak jerseys again. What number are you going to wear?
Brodziak: I think I’m going to wear 28 again. It has served me well the last couple of years in St. Louis and it is open right now. I’ve never been a really huge number guy, but since it’s been working the last little while, I might as well stick with it.
Brodziak is one of the most humble players I’ve dealt with. He is also one of the most polite. At 34 years of age, he’ll be the oldest player on the Oilers, with Andrej Sekera (32), Cam Talbot and Kris Russell (31), Milan Lucic and Mikko Koskinen (30) the only players over the age of 27. His calm, but competitive demeanour, should help the Oilers off the ice, but they should benefit from his experience on the ice.
The Oilers defensive zone coverage was not close to good enough. They allowed the 5th most goals in the NHL, and it wasn’t just due to a brutal PK. The PK was bad, but over the final 20 games the PK was 90.7%, 2nd best in the NHL. The Oilers 5×5 defence was just as much of an issue. They tied with Pittsburgh with the 5th most 5×5 goals allowed in the league. For all the chatter about the Oilers offence, it was the defence that hurt them the most.
Brodziak’s defensive awareness should give Todd McLellan a reliable defensive option. Brodziak proved last year he can still help out offensively, but his main contributions will likely be seen in the defensive end.